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UNC 'Pit' attacker gets up to 33 years; victims share their stories

Posted August 26, 2008

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— A judge Tuesday sentenced Mohammed Taheri-azar to 26 to 33 years in prison for plowing into a UNC crowd and injuring nine people in March 2006.

Taheri-azar, 25, pleaded guilty to nine counts of attempted murder earlier this month for the March 3, 2006, attack at The Pit, a popular outdoor gathering spot at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The sentence came after several victims had taken the stand to tell Superior Court Judge Carl Fox how the attack has affected their lives. Other victims sent prepared statements that Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall read for the court.

Taheri-azar's younger sister, Lida Taheri-Azar, 22, also spoke at the hearing and cried while reading her written statement.

Victims speak

The first to speak was Betty Hood, who was in court on behalf of her son, Larry Michael Allsep. He was unable to attend the hearing. Allsep, a former professor at UNC, suffered multiple injuries, including a broken wrist and tail bone.

"When (Taheri-azar's Jeep) got close, (my son) smelled the fumes and the gas, and it accelerated," Hood told the court. "He went up on the hood and was thrown off."

Hood said she first heard about the attack when a professor called her. The professor didn't want her to be surprised when she saw the footage on TV, she said.

"The most horrifying sight you can see is your son on a stretcher," she said. "I feel like (Taheri-azar) should be put away for life."

Susan Burgin said she was walking to class when Taheri-azar's rented Jeep Cherokee came toward her. She was able to jump out of the way without being directly hit, but she suffered a sore elbow and spasms in her neck, she said.

"I never fail to think about (what happened) when I walk by that spot," she said. "I'm never going to be 100 percent sure again that I'm completely safe."

Burgin said she still feels tense when there is a vehicle behind her when she's walking.

Karen Harman told Fox specific details of what happened that day.  

"He hit the gas. I heard the engine roar. ... I heard and felt the thud as the car hit me," she said. "I was on the ground clutching my knee in pain."

After the attack, Harman said she was frightened of any car movement or sound. She still feels nervous when she sees a Jeep Cherokee, she said, a sentiment other victims shared.

"This incident made me feel isolated and vulnerable," she said. "I no longer feel as safe in the world."

Woodall read statements from several other victims, who shared similar stories.

Sister speaks

Taheri-azar declined to speak during the hearing, except to say: "The defense rests." However, his younger sister, Lida, took the stand.

"I promise, he's one of a kind," she said. "In high school, he was the smartest kid on the football team (and) he saved my life when I was drowning once."

Lida partially blamed her brother's actions on a family friend who was a "bad role model" for him, she said. The friend was a doctor, she said.

Lida also told the judge how the crime affected her life. At one point, she was scared to go back to school, where she was studying criminal justice. In several classes, professors and a guest speaker talked about her brother's case, which made her cry, she said.

Lida said she knows her brother did wrong, and she expressed relief that no one was killed.

"I just, I'm sorry," she said, fighting back tears.

Taheri-azar's mother and father, who were at the hearing, declined to make statements to the court.

Sentencing

Woodall urged Fox to give Taheri-azar the stiffest punishment possible because of the harm his actions did to his victims and the community as a whole.

"The defendant used this occasion to terrorize an entire community," Woodall said. "The victimization reached far and wide in this case. He should pay dearly for that."

Taheri-azar's public defender, James Williams, argued that he should not get the toughest penalty because he took responsibility for his actions, including calling authorities after the incident and later pleading guilty.

"While I don't want to minimize what happened, this is not a situation where anyone was killed," Williams said.

Taheri-azar did not kill anyone, but he was trying to, Fox said while making his ruling.

"None of these people are dead, but it's not through your kindness or change of heart," Fox said, addressing Taheri-azar.

Fox expressed hope that Taheri-azar would someday feel remorse for what he did.

"By doing this act, you have robbed yourself and your family of what would be the best years of your life," Fox said.

Why he did it

Taheri-azar has said that he drove the Jeep into the crowd to avenge the killings of Muslims by the U.S. across the world.

After the attack, he told police he expected to die as a result of his actions – either by people at the scene attacking him or police shooting him.

Since he expected to die, he left a letter at his house. He told authorities about it after his arrest.

"He's very clear in this letter that his intent was to kill people," Woodall said.

Taheri-azar rented the Jeep because he thought it could do the most damage, Woodall said.

82 Comments

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  • Theseus Aug 26, 8:05 p.m.

    trianglerelic: In your quote from the professor the Koran can insist all it wants the two gods are the same. They are not and anyone who conducts a serious study of the two religious texts will readily see they are not the same god. I have given evidence for my claim. Any study of the Koran shows that Allah is a capricious god. Muslims can do everything right and Allah can still arbitrarily send them to eternal damnation. Allah is not a loving god who exhibits love for the sinner. I could go on. I didn't think you would answer my questions. If you had studied Islam more than a superficial way you would know the answers. The answers to those questions would help you to understand Islam and the actions of people like Teheri-azar and bin-Laden. And I have no response from dhamma about what moderate Muslims are doing to counter the jihadist ideology and the doctrine of Muslim supremacy. I don't lump all Muslims together. I want ones of good will to do something about their co-religionists

  • trianglerelic Aug 26, 6:58 p.m.

    Theseus,
    I'm no expert on Islam, or any religion for that matter, but yes I have studied it to some extent. In the words of an expert Francis Edward Peters, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, History, and Religion at the New York University "The Qur'an insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews (29:46). The Quran's Allah is the same Creator God who covenanted with Abraham".

    I've lived in the company of both Israli and Arabs for a number of years, and have personally experienced their hatred for one-another. but the issue stands that this guy got off with a slap on the wrist for what could have been one of the worse hate crimes in our state's history thus sending the wrong message to other would-be terrorists.

    The only good thing about him not receiving the death penalty is that he will not acheive martyrdom, thus making him a complete failure under his own rules of engagement. I'm just glad that he didn

  • CuriousT Aug 26, 6:31 p.m.

    He's a DOMESTIC TERRORIST. He should have been put away for LIFE.

  • ridgerunner Aug 26, 6:11 p.m.

    He is getting off too easy. He meant to kill, but fortunatly was not very smart in how to go about it. He should have been charged with a hate crime because in his own words he admitted his guilt.

  • Theseus Aug 26, 5:58 p.m.

    Allah is not the God of the Christian or Hebrew Bible. Allah has none of the characteristics of the God of the Bible. In Islam there can be no personal relationship with Allah as there is in Christianity and Judaism. Allah is unknowable and therefore all a Muslim can do is submit to the will of Allah. There are 99 names for Allah in Islam. "Love" is not among those 99 names. All those who know so much about Islam can you please tell us the difference between the Meccan and Medinan Haddiths, what is the law of abrogation or what year Muslims mark as the beginning of Islam and why? Tell us when Islamic scholars pronounced personal/individual interpretation of the Koran closed and no longer allowed? Do you know the great importance of the example of Mohammed in Islam? Have you lived in an Islamic country or is your knowledge of Islam limited to movies and the mainstream media? Have you done a serious study of Islam at any time in the 7 years since 9/11? Don't tell me they are the same

  • Damn_Yankee Aug 26, 5:47 p.m.

    Trianglerelic: Christians don't hate Islam for claiming that their god Allah is "the same." But there is resentment for claiming that Islam supercedes Judaism and Christianity, while claiming many of the same ideas, places, and people. Of course, forced conversions through violent means and threats (historical and current) don't help either. Nor does executing Muslims who voluntarily become Christians. And of course, Muslims hate the Jews simply for continuing to exist after being offered Islam in the 7th century. And this hatred continues unabated today.

  • trianglerelic Aug 26, 5:43 p.m.

    Putting religion, terrorism, and everything asside... This man planned to murder as many innocent students as he could. It's pure luck that no one died. This was premediated, planned out and pure evil.

    We can only hope that his cell mates for the next 33 years are Very Loving fellows...

  • trianglerelic Aug 26, 5:32 p.m.

    The funny thing is that Allah is God. The Islamic God, Allah is in fact the same god of the Christians. Scary isn't it, that they hate us for believing in the same god. The split occurs where Islam believes that Mohamed is the only true prophet, and Christianity instead follows the path of Jesus Christ.

    But if you find this bizarre, then you'll love this.... Muslims murder Muslims because one sect believes that the Islamic leaders must be direct descendants of Mohamed, while others feel that the leaders can be elected from the public.
    As much as Muslims hate Christians, the sad truth is that they don't even like one-another. I think we are very fortunate to live in this country and are able to enjoy the freedom it offers us. And yes, only a fraction of Muslims are radical and violent, the majority is Secular and peaceful. It's important that we don't lump them all into the radical bucket.

  • Theseus Aug 26, 5:21 p.m.

    This is not about which faith is right or true.
    Dhamma said:"I have plenty of friends that are Muslim and they constantly complain about how Bin-Laden and his group have ruined things for them both here and in their native country."
    My point is what are they doing beyond "constantly complaining" about how bin Laden has "ruined things for them." IF, as we are told, the terrorists like bin Laden have hijacked Islam, it is up to Muslims to reclaim it. What are they doing besides whining? To counter this the Islamic community must formulate nationwide, compulsory programs in American mosques to teach against the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism. Notice I said Muslims have to do that not the gov't. so don't accuse me of being a fascist. This must be done by explicitly and definitively rejecting the literal meaning of many passages of the Koran and Hadith. Peaceful Muslims need to convince people like Bin-Laden & Teheri-azar that Islam is peaceful not me or the rest of the U.S.

  • dhamma Aug 26, 4:58 p.m.

    Some of these comments about religion go far beyond laughable. ANY religion or idea can be twisted and used as a psychological tool to get people to do almost anything. This is not just true of one faith. I have plenty of friends that are Muslim and they constantly complain about how Bin-Laden and his group have ruined things for them both here and in their native country. I would be Very careful in comparing any of this to Christianity as it to has its own dark corners littered though out history. Ask yourself this, do you think or believe "My religion is the ONLY right Religion" and "those who do not believe as I are wrong, shall parish" I am pretty sure this guy would have answered yes to both questions. The guy is crazy, and would have probably been crazy with our with the Koran.

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